FTC Releases ‘Green Guides’

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued the long-awaited revised “Green Guides” that are designed to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive.

The Green Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. According to the FTC, very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.

The Green Guides also:

  • Advise marketers not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal.
  • Caution that items destined for landfills, incinerators or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for these items.
  • Clarify guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content and source reduction claims.
  • Contain new sections on: certifications and seals of approval, carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, made-with-renewable-energy claims, and made-with-renewable-materials claims.
  • Do not address use of the terms “sustainable,” “natural” and “organic” either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies. Organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

As the FTC points out, the Green Guides are not agency rules or regulations. Instead, they describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Under Section 5, the agency can take enforcement action against deceptive claims, which ultimately can lead to Commission orders prohibiting deceptive advertising and marketing and fines if those orders are later violated.

The FTC updated its website to provide additional information on how to understand and evaluate the Green Guides. It can be found at: http://business.ftc.gov/advertising-and-marketing/environmental-marketing.

Earlier this year, PPAI hosted a webinar on the FTC’s Green Guides. Catch up with the conversation here, in PPAI’s webinar archive. And further your understanding of the issue at the PPAI Expo 2013 education session. Click here to register.

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